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a costume drama about old age
"Youth" is a movie about age: lots of words are spent about being old, and you must eventually assume that the title of the movie is defined by exclusion. Most of interactions are between couples (friend with friend, father with daughter) whose talks very rarely sound like actual talks, and very often look like monologues. Not strange at all, anyway, as a third important subject (a.k.a. the audience) is always present so the talking is basically for us. People that complain with Sorrentino for these kind of things just don't understand what the man is trying to do: yeah, his characters looks like they have written words in front of them and are taking turns to deliver their own, but, guess what, this is a perfect definition for the term "acting in a movie". Peace.
Michael Caine shines in the leading role, in his usual soft-spoken and controlled fashion. He is surrounded but two magnificent counterparts, the old (but young inside) Harvey Keitel and the young (but old inside) world famous actor portrayed by Paul Dano. These characters allow us to see how, never mind the age, you are just as much young as you want to be (the word "Youth" is possibly used in this movie as an alternate definition of "Life": you can be a youngster of 10, 30 of 70 years old, as long as you keep on learning from your mistakes). Harvey Keitel gets a very rare chance to star in the role of an intellectual, a director who's writing his "testament". He has a real great cinema-moment (the women of his movie life, reunited in a dreamy swiss panorama, halfway between Fellini 8 1/2 and Nuovo Cinema Paradiso ending montage), and provides energy and credibility to a character who's not entirely able to come to terms with his life (which is what Michael Caine eventually accomplish): as life is what it is, of course, but life is all there is - of course.
I would have skipped the final sequence with the concert: you can't keep on talking about a great piece of art for the whole movie, and then make the big mistake of trying to show it, as such great expectations are easy to be failed. But anyway I liked the strange unreal feeling of this movie, his peculiar setting and choice of characters, their detached reflections about life: it looks like a fantasy movie, or a ghosts story. I believe that it can be enjoyed by anybody, despite the age, regardless of the stage of "Youth" you currently are or feel in.
The Counselor (2013)
the big advice
One year after the release, I have now seen this movie a couple (of couples) of times, and there is something I need to write down about it. In short: I feel this is one of the greatest movies I have seen in a while, and I believe that it will be considered much more relevant than many so-called contemporary masterpieces from tomorrow's critics and audiences. I am perfectly aware of the long list of remarks this movie have received: too many dialogues, don't understand the story, the Ferrari rape, too much overall seriousness throughout the whole thing. All these observations would be quite correct if The Counselor was intended to be a normal movie, say, a drug story with some romance, some action, all of them nicely packaged between a credible beginning and a logical ending. But The Counselor is one of those very rare movies that are done to make a statement, not to tell a story. The statement is not subtle, and should be more than clear already if you have seen the movie, but I will repeat it: evil exists, so beware, because you can choose to stay away from it or to mess with it, and if you mess with evil, then evil mess with you to, eventually, prevail.
I believe that in front of certain movies you have to move out from the nerdish attitude, stop looking for flaws in the story and dialogues. The people in the movie do not talk (or behave, btw) like normal people, simply because they are not normal people: they are examples, metaphors, personification of greed, weakness, cruelty, innocence. In this story, on the stage there are not people but some capital sins and (few) heavenly virtues, and they are being acted from a bunch of very talented artists unless of course you think they are portraying real people, and in this case the actors really would look like a bunch of clowns.
I have been familiar with Cormac McCarthy writing and themes for many years now. He has a very peculiar look on things, which means that he sees strange things in what everybody else see as normal, and viceversa (more or less in the exact same way Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz misunderstand each other in the swimming pool scene). This peculiarity is very hard to translate on the screen, because is not entirely related to something that can be seen, or shown. That's why people talk so much in this movie, and that's why most of the talk is made by those who in Penelope Cruz world would be called the "bad guys". They are trying to give some advice. "Counselor" may be the name of the main character, yes, but it's more clearly the name of the movie. After many years of fascination, attraction and understanding with the Dark Side, we are uncomfortable with The Counselor, because The Counselor is, very unusually, Evil advocating against himself: and we should listen closely, because it could represents a chance to understand how to stay out from hell, if not forever, at least a little longer than we are expected to do.
Mia madre (2015)
all that you can leave behind
Nanni Moretti may not be everybody's cup of tea, but his relevance cannot be denied. Very few artists has been so constantly present, so honestly faithful to themselves, and at the same time so careful in portraying the evolution of Italian society in the last decades. You put together the twelve movies Moretti has done in his forty years of activity and you get a perfect course in history of this country. It is not strange, then, that his latest movie looks like an attempt to portray confusion and uncertainty. As almost always, the story is based on personal experience from Moretti. In the past he has made movies about growing up and getting older (Caro Diario), movies about having a son (Aprile), and now he is sharing with the audience his reflections about the recent loss of his mother, frequently mentioned and, once, even featured in his works.
The story is about a director trying to complete a movie set in the contemporary scenario of economic crisis, focused on the loss of jobs in an Italian factory after the purchase of the compound from a USA investor. But the director cannot concentrate on the movie, as her old mother is dying in a hospital. There is a big difference between the main story (the death of the mother), which is told in a solemn and painfully slow way, and the story in the story (the script of the director's movie), whose lines and situations are formulaic, simple to the edge of stupidity ("Shit", as John Turturro says honestly in a moment of rage). Losing your mother is something that everybody's know is coming, sooner or later, but this doesn't mean you can be prepared: and in front of this terribly huge moment, everything else seems silly and preposterous.
The overall acting effort is really something to appreciate: Margherita Buy provides a complex, troubled counterpart for Moretti, who has limited himself to a supporting yet important role. John Turturro is the bright spot of the story: most of the situations where he is involved are really funny (neurotic Turturro and anxious Margherita Buy are a comedy duo with potential). Giulia Lazzarini portrays the sick mother, her energies slowly fading, with sensibility and measure: a really moving performance. She is by far the emotional centerpiece of the whole movie: in a story where everybody else seems willing to quit everything (relationships, day jobs, movie careers) for lack of meaning, the frail and weakened character of the mother, still willing to teach Latin to his niece until her very last moment and breath, actually teaches through the deep relationships she has with her family, and even with her former students, the surprising strength of human boundaries and love.
vegetarians of love
Please, listen: if you are looking for a "classic" story you should choose something else. A story is here, indeed, but it's buried under a series of episodes and different POVs it feels like we are having the chance to observe the behavior of the inhabitants of a parallel dimension from the fixed cameras of an internal surveillance video system (a very special one, equally able to look in the present, in the past and in the dreams of the strange characters displayed).
What we get, in the movie, it's a composite drawing of the social, private, and inner lives of those characters. And it's strange, of course: sometimes you can hardly tell the difference between the dream and the reality and the reverie as those surveillance cameras never flinch and inch, even in front of the most strange happenings. But, even if the cameras never moves, the images we are shown constantly jump the tone of the story from drama, to comedy, to horror, to nonsense, with a quickness that is uncommon for the genre-related, petrified narrative codes we are used to.
The main thing I could understand, in the end, is that the problem of the people living in this world is their inability to care about each other's feelings. Some of them eventually even understand this, and with regret, because they realize that if you are not able to love your close ones then you will hardly be able to love yourself. Still, all of them look completely unable to go over this self-imposed limit: so it happens that the stuffed pigeon at the begin of the movie seems by far to be the most alive of the characters featured not to mention the happiest one.
The Salt of the Earth (2014)
a precious and terrible gift
Wim Wenders being Wim Wenders, he has nothing left to prove about movie making. So most of this documentary is simply made by the pictures of Sebastião Salgado, and by close-ups of his face: he is looking at the images (but through the screen at the same time), while telling and explaining to the audience the genesis and the reasons of his work. It is very simple, yes, but at the same time it's extremely powerful. So powerful that, after a while, I was under the impression that those still b/w images were alive: crowds in the mass scenes seemed to move, people in portraits looked like they were going to turn their heads, and talk.
This movie should be shown in schools. The work of Salgado has testified some of the major (but lesser known) disasters of recent world history, none of which came within ear of the western world - much more interested in the brilliant lives of the fashion victims than in the tragic fate of the casualties of famines and wars.
Nietzsche famously once wrote: "When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you". Salgado had the guts to stare to the abyss, without blinking - but clicking. He did it to give to others the opportunity to know, and possibly to better understand the meaning of the term "humanity". Some of Sebastião Salgado images are horrible, but it is by far more horrible to think that without him those horrors would have happened with nobody to remember about them. His work creates grounds for memory, and memory grows some chances for hope, and hope give us and some reason to believe in a better future for our troubled planet.
La Vénus à la fourrure (2013)
a movie in furs, but smooth as silk
Since I had not been able to fully appreciate the recent Polanski works, this movie has been for me a big surprise. I especially disliked "Carnage" because I found it predictable, and therefore boring and I know very well I was quite alone in my opinion, but still. For this reason, I was biased towards another movie from the same director featuring just a couple of characters secluded in an interior. But, eventually, I found "Venus" surprising and exciting (and please don't misunderstand: excitement entirely came out of surprise).
The script, apparently simple, is a jewel with many shining facets, a brilliant movie translation of a witty stageplay inspired by a meaningful and modern book. It is like a very complex choreography, a delicate and fragile thing, very easy to spoil unless the execution is perfect. But the great work of the director and of the actors have produced a real masterpiece that maintains a high level of tension and interest throughout his whole running time.
Thanks to the brilliant connections between literature, stage and reality, and thanks to the many things that remain unclear about the character's real identities and motivations, this movie sounds much more like a question than like a an answer: some kind of Rorschach spot to test the opinion of the audience about the relationships between a man and a woman, between the lover and the beloved one. Go see it with an open mind, and you won't be disappointed: even in a worst case scenario you will find an interesting piece of conversation, so anyhow your time will be well spent.
Sacro GRA (2013)
a wonderful gallery of surprising characters
This little movie is classified as "documentary" and named after the GRA, which is the orbital road that surrounds the city of Rome. So it would be legit to expect the environment of the metropolis suburbia to be the center and the focus of the narrative. Instead, I was quite surprised to discover how "Sacro GRA" is basically a gallery of portraits, featuring a series of curious and inspiring characters.
All this people share the apparently unexciting fate of living their lives in the depressed urban context on the edge of the "Big Beauty". I mention the recent movie of Paolo Sorrentino because the comparison between the real characters of this "Sacro GRA" and the fictional characters of "La Grande Bellezza" was, to me, quite automatic: while in the lavish apartments and villas of Sorrentino's movie desperation grows like a sunflower in summer, in the much harder situations depicted by Mr. Rosi the people looks to be less prone to self-pity, and more than willing to hope, and trust, and love, and believe - just like if they were in a 19th century romance.
Filtered through the eyes and lives of these unbreakable spirits, even the occasional sad moments acquire a bittersweet aftertaste, and become more acceptable: just the negative proofs of the existence of happiness - like pawprints left in the woods by the passage of a wild, legendary beast.
La grande bellezza (2013)
a portrait of the artist as an old man
This movie's title means "The Big Beauty", and the story is set in Rome. Of course, the city is prominently featured, so much and so long that it makes you think that "Rome" could be probably credited among the actors, at least for a supporting role, as "herself". But buyer beware (or, to appropriately use the Latin, Caveat Emptor): this is not a film about the beauty of the immortal city. In a nutshell, I would say that this movie is about the constant research of beauty and meaning in life by an aging intellectual named Jep. I am sure I won't give away too much if I say that, eventually, he will became aware that the beauty in his life is not in Rome heck, it's not even in the present: poor Jep has been searching for so long in the wrong place, and in the wrong time.
Somebody could be annoyed by the fact that nobody in the movie seems never to do any kind of work at all -- curiously enough, the only self-proclaimed hardworking man happens to be a very seriously-looking international criminal! But for most of the other characters, money looks more like a cause, than a consequence of life. Without the restraints of needs, left with no practical excuses for not being happy, they still accomplish somehow the no small feat of spoiling their lives with various forms of suffering and pain.
The story is wonderfully told both by images and dialogues. It takes some kind of "magic realism" turn towards the end but that's balanced by the steadily cynic tone of the stream of consciousness coming out from Jep, wandering around the city like Marlowe in Los Angeles. Paolo Sorrentino is a writer, too: he has written a couple of enjoyable books starring a character very similar to the one depicted in the movie, a cold bastard bon vivant with a surprisingly soft heart. Mr. Toni Servillo provides flesh, and bone, and looks, and wit for this character. Just another major performance from the greatest Italian living actor: at the end of the movie it leaves into the audience the clear idea to have actually known a real person, not just a fictional one. The whole supporting cast is great, and very well-picked. A special mention goes to Sabrina Ferilli and Carlo Verdone, two very famous actors in Italy, shining here in two supporting roles where both of them display their undisputed talent.
Los amantes pasajeros (2013)
a refreshing trip through the silver linings
This movie is very funny, and yes, very light. Therefore, if you go to theater expecting another "Todo sobre mi madre", please be aware that you will be for sure highly disappointed - so maybe you should do something else. This is an "Airport" disaster movie, set in Almodovar's world and populated by his trademark characters. You can easily imagine the final outcome, don't you?
I found the result of this crossover wildly entertaining, and refreshing. But not silly: a couple of themes thrown in the story the ones related to the supposed financial crimes of one of the characters - gave me the feeling that Almodovar is trying to say something even about the current situation of Spain and Europe (and the setting of the last scene, with all those empty interiors, that shameful waste of money, looks like a clear statement from the author about what should be actually called a "disaster" in nowadays world).
I am not Spanish: so maybe what I think about the relevance of Pedro Almodovar's work for Spanish culture could easily be wrong. Still, I am under the impression that you can hardly find in the whole world another artist that has so single-handedly influenced and changed the mindset of a country like this man has done for Spain in the last thirty years (and it's a long way, from "Marcelino pan y vino" to Agrado and his sisters). In my opinion, Spain has been made a better place, by the Almodovar revolution. God bless him.
Viva la libertà (2013)
come and see the greatest living Italian actor
In this movie there are certain minor nuances that you won't probably notice unless you are a well-read and informed Italian citizen. Forget about it: even if you don't have total knowledge of the scenario depicted, this won't stop you from enjoying this funny, surprising story (and furthermore, for all of us living outside the USA, it is not the same with every single baseball or football flick?).
The sky is the ceiling for the acting abilities of Mr. Toni Servillo, who plays the main role. The man is so good, it looks like he could be able to play all the roles in "War and Peace" by himself at the same time: and with good makeups and costumes, I bet he could. Most of the movie is constantly played around the closeups of his face: and it's a good idea, as this guy is able to switch personality just turning his head, or blinking his eyes. Even the other actors and actresses of the cast are very good, with a special mention for Valerio Mastandrea, whose character is the dazed and confused witness of the disaster he creates. The silent gazes he throws around while his world of relations is crumbling down reminded me more than one time the classic comedy of the great Totò.
So, I strongly suggest to go watch this movie to enjoy those great acting performances - no need to know anything about Italian politics: even because, to be honest, given the outcome of the 2013 elections, nobody here can tell for sure anymore where's the difference between reality and fantasy.